Samuel S. Epstein, M.S. and Ralph W. Moss
The New York Times letters, July 16, 1991
“Study Finds Mysterious Rise in Childhood Cancer Rates” (news
article, June 26) understates the problems and overstates the mystery.
Scientists, it says , are “just now learning of the latest
statistics” that show a 4 percent increase in childhood cancer
from 1973 to 1988. Last year, the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
reported a 28 percent increase in the incidence of childhood cancer
from 1950 to 1987.
It is also stated that scientists have “few clues to the reasons for
the jump.” Yet, more than 20 studies in the United States and elsewhere
have demonstrated clear associations between childhood cancers and exposure
to carcinogenic chemicals. The three most common childhood malignancies,
kidney and brain cancers and acute leukemia, are often related to occupational
of fathers and mothers. Such exposure includes organic solvents, hydrocarbons,
paints, dyes and pigments. Children of mechanics and mining and aircraft
workers are also at risk.
You gloss over the substantial association between childhood
cancer and exposure to pesticides. Clusters of acute leukemia are
found in agricultural counties
with heavy pesticide use, particularly for cotton production. Additionally,
brain tumors have been associated with home termite treatment. Of 34 pesticides
repeatedly applied commercially to lawns, at up to five times agricultural
rates, ten are well recognized carcinogens.
As documented by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), residues
of numerous carcinogenic pesticides are commonly found in most
fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, milk and other dairy products are often laden with carcinogenic
and antibiotics. Factory farm meat, particularly liver, veal, frankfurters
and hamburgers, are also contaminated with carcinogenic pesticides, besides
growth-stimulating sex hormones and other feed additives.
The Bush Administration has flung open the floodgates to carcinogens
in our food. With active support of the Secretary of Health and
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has in effect revoked the 1958
law, which banned intentional contamination of food with any level of
Instead, the EPA now allows residues of any carcinogenic pesticide
in any food at levels posing allegedly “acceptable” or “negligible risk,” as
determined by manipulated numbers. In this, it has surprisingly been
joined by Representative Henry A. Waxman of California and Senator Edward
of Massachusetts. However, even the understated EPA estimates show risks
of up to 60,000 excess annual cancers when applied to the numerous pesticides
contaminating a plateful of food.
The Delaney law is crucial in protecting children from carcinogens
in food. The fetus, infants and young children are much more susceptible
than adults. Reasons for this include children’s rapid rate of
growth and cell division, immaturity of detoxifying systems and their
greater food consumption. This hyper susceptibility results not only
in increased rates of childhood cancer, but also in delayed cancers
in adult life. Illustrative
are the rare vaginal cancers in young women whose pregnant mothers
were treated with the carcinogen DES.
Only a sharp phase-out and ultimately a ban on the manufacture,
use and disposal of carcinogenic chemicals, and their replacement
and technologies, is likely to reverse the burgeoning toll of childhood
cancers. Such action is also likely to reverse the cancer epidemic
now striking one
in three and killing one in four Americans. The highly politicized
Federal agencies and a lethargic, confused Congress are unlikely
to act without
any effective grassroots citizen action.
Samuel Epstein M. D. is professor of occupational and environmental
medicine, University of Illinois, Chicago.
Ralph W. Moss is the author of “The Cancer Industry.”